Slowdive’s self-titled new album is out today, May 5th, amid the first week of the band’s current tour. The life of a music fan that used to mean sleeping out for tickets, lining up for midnight releases, and wearing the t-shirt at the gig and the next day as a talisman is back for the passionate in the cities on the tour. We are, today, the closest we ever get to sports fanatics. Sonic Boom’s meet and greet meant that Toronto fans were among the first to get physical albums and even get them signed by the band as well. Young & talented musicians were among those devoted fans. The world is expanding and brimming with hope again.
We Slowdive fans who have the tickets, bought the album and will meet in these cities are among the last, triumphant members of the tribe that once (27 years ago) seemed like it was everyone, a generation of kids millions strong, who would take over the world (somehow) and create the best music festivals celebrating real alternative music in all its genre splits and subcategories, all of it real, authentic; upending bottom lines and redefining success measures. This was supposed to be happening now, in our 40s. Our renaissance has been delayed, waylaid, trumped by all the skirmishes we are stinging from in a broad cultural war, amid all the other wars and upheavals which have made too many of us create bunkers for bingewatching instead of real music festivals (in North America, at least).
So we music lovers of all ages sometimes feel like the flag bearers in a film’s army attack scene who somehow doesn’t get killed in the raid despite a woeful lack of armour, beating hearts too easy targets, ranks thinning all around us. Looking foolish as our flag is not recognized by too many anymore- not just the establishment but our own former comrades-at-arms. We’ve felt like that, as every single point of discussion, appreciation, purchase (?) and attendance at live music gigs are things that have become another kind of armchair football for the stay-at-home-crowd who are much better at debating and bloviating than they are at getting up and moving their feet. At putting their money where their mouths are. There is real music, and there are real music fans. We’ll meet tonight. It is Christmas.
Slowdive’s new record is the exact sound of what it means to be happy to be alive, and to be unafraid of everything else.
To have come to the edge and back, to know the triumphs of the soul, the body, the brain, the heart, and all that other stuff we take for granted until one or more of them has us by the throat. To be on the other side, the slimmest margin side, of machines beeping out statuses beyond our comprehension, nurses coolly discussing us in jargon that reduces us to toddler helplessness. To have had countless pin pricks in every vein, in places you never thought about having veins, the same veins, the same clotting that can kill or save you depending on the context. To have rewritten the cliches of the bedside, to find you can be an orphan and still be enough for yourself. To find new depths and new heights. To become the rarest of things: a slim statistic that others misunderstand as a lottery win instead of a labyrinth of correct & careful choices and expertise and heroism within and without. Heroism is no accident. And with all this, to remain grounded, too.
We’ve never talked about this outside of our tight friendship circle, but our Co-founder Dave survived, with a 20% chance, a lightning-strike brain aneurysm in late February that took us out of the running of regular life and suspending our passions- music, gigs, photography, and celebration, this magazine, until just recently. After 2 months, the prognosis is a full recovery with a few battle scars. Every spring gig we were anticipating and pre-celebrating, Slowdive chief among them, will forever now be lined with our truth, our joy, and our utter lack of anything left to fear. The ability of music to project itself onto your heart and become a friend has a new depth and resonance today. And there is no finer sound to mark a good man’s return to life.
This bold statement, that Slowdive’s new record is the exact sound of what it means to be happy to be alive despite the odds, was a spontaneous one from the first few listens, erupting from the opening 1:14 of “Everyone Knows”, which not only reminds us of something keenly felt, of private hardships, but also fuels the passion of a writer and of a photographer, two lifelong music fans celebrating it for 23 years together, and now, with this website about music. The swirling lift of “Everyone Knows” carries our hopes and drives for music itself, for its future, for its survival and revival despite odds and recent evidence, despite apathy and cynicism, despite fear, despite this young century which let us all down so badly. The ending of the song trails with a tambourine that evokes a rattlesnake. This is war alright. Get ready. Choose your weapon: guitar, pen, wallet.
The album’s lead singles “Star Roving” & “Sugar for the Pill” can now be heard and enjoyed in album order, in a focused, proper way. And there you will find, halfway through, that the opening of “Everyone Knows” is a rich layered tapestry of everything Slowdive, and Slowdive alone, is known and rightly admired for. Why we, why music, needs their intervention. One thousand words in a digital article is blasted clean by one harmony from Rachel and Neil. This record is drenched, like the slim, elegant body of Slowdive’s work before it, with real musicianship combined with rich and rare vocal harmonic layering from people who know each other best (and bests, and worsts) and whose special magic is untouched by time or outside forces. It is precise and clean, unfurling and filling the air just long enough to make you want more. It is hypnotic, it is definitely Shoegaze- if you love that word- and it is definitely not Shoegaze- if you oppose that label or labels themselves. It is Slowdive. It is music. It will make you understand what music is and can be. It is the musical equivalent of Stanley Kubrick’s 60s films, which invented new techniques in secret in obsessive ritual or bursts of kismet or expertise among real, rare artists that lessers and even other geniuses marvel at, revisit, try to decode even now. And maybe forever. It is fucking art. It is not a file, a download or something you can steal or sneer at.
The repeat & close listening of the real music lover/critic will reveal that there are numerous call backs from within the new songs to other songs, and other Slowdive albums. We’ve all heard the stunning “Yesterday”, a Pygmalion – era demo, notes of which emerge in the new record, first in lead track “Slomo”, beautifully. It’s a statement. It’s picking up a thread and making it seem effortless, it’s the lovely painting that does not reveal 10,000 hours of labour. It’s godly.
“Slomo” almost defies description. Without lyric sheets, one can only hope that a lifelong urge to pick out words is correct (not wishful thinking) in interpreting a single utterance of a line in the bridge as “give me your heart again give me your hide” for the truth of love is deep, not for the faint of heart, and pagan. Here on the ground, it gets messy. We fight for transcendence. We bear scars if we’ve lived.
As fans of post-Slowdive project Mojave 3, we hear some layers of Mojave, particularly in some of Neil Halstead’s solo vocal arrangements. This thrills us to no end, as it sound tracked and healed our own mid-2000s break up. We came back, stronger, too. The Mojave references, subtle as they are (Mojave was always a folk-esque stripped down Slowdive) makes the new Slowdive album a continuum of a larger artistic work, one unbroken by time and, well, breaks (for both bands) one with a purity and majesty that this underrated and yet cherished band deserves. One that will reward listeners for years to come. One that invites future tours and new innovations and capabilities for expansion of an already solid set of early material, and lesser heard essential Mojave material, if the million strong 1990 army awakens and dusts off their Docs and gets a new, maybe roomier T-shirt and meets us outside in the new fields of the next few summers.
The payoff will be grand.
We previewed the first two new Slowdive singles and previewed the tour here. We’ll be in the Toronto crowd tonight in celebration and will return with a write-up for our friends cheering from home in other cities around the globe.
By Jacqueline Howell with Dave MacIntyre – Co-founders and Co-editors, DISARM Magazine.
Slowdive information, tour tickets and music.